Pakistan’s Black Comedy

by Ehsan Azari on 11/26/2007

GENERAL MUSHARRAF (on 3rd of November declaring state of emergency in Pakistan): “I will not let this country commit suicide” “Bitter pill to swallow” “I found myself between a rock and a hard surface”.

GEORGE W. BUSH (Hours later): “I spoke to president Musharraf right before I came over here…And my message was very plain, very easy to understand. And that is: The United States wants you to have the elections as scheduled and take your uniform off” “You can’t be the president and the head of the military at the same time”.

GENERAL MUSHARRAF: “We should have elections before 9th of January” “I shall take [the] oath of office as civilian president of Pakistan”. “I will take off the uniform”.

We do not need a discourse analysis here, for everything is crystal clear. However, these statements, made less than a fortnight ago in Islamabad and Washington, raise questions like, who loses what? And who gains what?

For Mr Bush it may have been good news to hear his clarion call found immediate acceptance. But President Musharraf seems to be a winner too, despite a short term loss—his inglorious humiliation as the quotes above indicate.

General Musharraf’s imposition of a de facto marshal law was a thoughtful and clever decision by Pakistani standards, despite its apparent impetuousness. He relieved himself from Pakistan’s restive Supreme Court once and for all, which was just about to declare his presidential candidacy illegal. In addition, he secured himself a jolly good time and a subtle space for manoeuvring against his civilian rivals within the country. He now has extra time to promote himself like his other military predecessors, as the only saviour capable of holding Pakistan together as a country.

Against such a military showdown, Ms Benazir Bhutto, twice former Prime Minister of Pakistan, has embarked on a campaign of her own self-promoting, which is very much reminiscent of Burma. She gives the impression that she is leading the marching pro-democracy monks whereas General Musharraf is working to secure the power of the military junta in Pakistan. Much of her activities, house arrests, and cheering interviews, are aimed at winning at the ballot box and distancing herself from Musharraf who is at the peak of his unpopularity both at home and abroad.

The odds are against any major change in Pakistan’s contribution in the war on terrorism, even if the upcoming general election goes smoothly and leads to shared power between Musharraf and Ms Bhutto. There is nothing novel in her offer. Under her tacit support, her Interior Minister, Nasirullah Babur, and the ISI’s director, General Hamid Gul, created the Taliban and sent them into Afghanistan. She once boasted that she closed down maddrassa business in Pakistan, and dumped it in the in neighbouring Afghanistan. It is no secret that she has always had a deep relationship with the notorious spy agency.

The high expectations in the West for Ms Bhutto’s return to power seem to be too simplistic. She will likely pick up where she had left off. As in her second term in office in the 1990s, she will be again toddling along behind the military and its notorious spy agency, the ISI. For military is the centre of the gravity of power in Pakistan; experience bears witness that Pakistani leaders whether they are generals, a mullah, or a woman in Hollywood makeup, would have no option but to follow the military.

General Musharraf showed Machiavellianism when he began striking secret deals with Ms Bhutto in a bid to please the West. He will now rewrite the Pakistani constitution —always played out at the hands of Pakistani military rulers—to allow her a third term. Less than a year ago, her very name was a taboo in Musharraf’s vocabulary. He wrote in his unreliable book, In The Line of Fire, “Benazir Bhutto, who had twice been tried, been tested, and failed, had to be denied a third chance”.

The truth is that the general himself has been a failed leader, since 2001 when the US-led war on terrorism began, he has often been barking at the Taliban and Islamic extremists, but biting pro-democracy lawyers, journalist, and liberal parties. The only daring action for which he will be remembered is the storming of the Red Mosque in the heart of Islamabad which let the genie of Tribal areas out of the bottle. He is now busy getting the genies back in bottle with secret deals.

Whenever General Musharraf brags about democracy and his false “enlightened moderation” and “democracy”, one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry or do both. For example, at the end of his book he wants to advice the upcoming Pakistani leaders: “We have to consolidate our democracy and ensure the supremacy of constitution.” He himself has now suspended both constitution and democracy in his country.

Musharraf pretends his emergency rule is aimed at curbing Islamic extremism, but the opposite has happened. The democratic forces are being terrorised by government, while the powerful mullahs are playing with high stakes. The powerful religious parties with back channel links with the Taliban and Al-qaida, are as strong as ever. They virtually control the country’s two important provinces. For example, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, leader of the powerful Jamiat-i-Ulema Islami, and leader of the opposition openly says that he himself is one of the Taliban. He continues to call for the withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan. The Maulana has always been a staunch ally of Pakistan’s military, including Ms Bhutto.

The current situation, in which the ideology of Islamic extremism is so deeply embedded into the fabric of Pakistani society, suggests that the anti-terror cavalry won’t arrive even with the upcoming elections in which General Musharraf will be the President laced with Ms Bhutto, as the third time, Prime Minister. The black comedy will remain on stage for a while, the real question is whether Pakistan will survive as a country or the war on terrorism will be won in south Asia. Against all odds, survival of both Pakistan and Islamic extremism seems to be tied up together. If the Islamic extremism dies down, deeply divided Pakistan will find its survival at the mercy of Allah alone.

Copyright © Dr Ehsan Azari


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